Five things we learned this week in Ligue 1

‘Le PSG a Zlatané! : Ibrahimovic starts as Paris Saint-Germain tear Saint-Étienne apart

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 23.34.40In response to what has been a mediocre start to the season for the capital’s side, Paris Saint-Germain answered their critics with a resounding five-nil victory in the city’s 16th arrondissement on Sunday night.

PSG cruised to their second win of the season with an imposing performance in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who returned to the side for the first time since the injury he picked-up against SC Bastia on Matchday two, shone as he scored a hat-trick in front of the adoring home support.

Saint-Étienne went into the match unbeaten and it would be fair to stay that a large section of the Stéphanois support were disappointed by the manner in which their side’s game was dismantled by les Parisiens, with the word ‘thrashing’ not being too excessive to be used in describing the match.

Saint-Étienne fell behind after twenty-four minutes in the most embarrassing of manners, when former PSG midfielder Jérémy Clément played a back pass to the usually exceptional goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier who lost control of the ball at feet, resulting in the French international appearing to dribble the ball into his own net and going behind so early was never going to help the ASSE cause.

Saint-Étienne tried to recover from their early blow and on thirty-four minutes Melvut Erding, another former PSG player, forced one of the saves of the season so far from Salvatore Sirigu with a powerful volley from a Fabien Lemoine corner. However just over six minutes later, les Parisiens doubled their lead through Ibrahimovic who headed home from a perfectly timed cross from the veteran left-back Maxwell, who started instead of Lucas Digne for the first time this season.

By this stage in the game, Saint-Étienne appeared to have lost hope and seemed to be a side that was a shadow of their usually resilient selves. On 62 minutes, a slack Kévin Monnet-Paquet back pass allowed Ibrahimovic to scored his second when taking the ball around Ruffier to have the most elementary of finishes. The fourth goal of the game was by far the best, as after some great team build-up play, Edinson Cavani curled home a dream strike from around twenty-five yards, helping to sink Saint-Étienne’s hopes even further. Zlatan Ibrahimovic sealed his third of the game and PSG’s fifth on 22 minutes when he once more breached Saint-Étienne’s backline to meet a precision pass from Marco Verratti and finished coolly.

Statistics can often reveal a lot in Football, and one of the most telling in French Football at the moment concerns Ligue 1’s greatest star.The impact of  Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to first-team was noticeable in all aspects of PSG’s offensive game, with Laurent Blanc’s side being able to turn possession into goals, something they weren’t able to do in Annecy against Evian last week. Ibrahimovic’s impact is proven by the fact that PSG are statistically thirty percent more likely to win when he’s in the starting line-up.

The return of  ‘Zlatan’, combined with the club’s ability to hold onto both Adrien Rabiot and Ezequiel Lavezzi will have given the Parisien support much to be happy about this week, as they look to put their mediocre start to the season behind them. Despite their midweek Europa League qualification success, Saint-Étienne fans however will be disappointed with their side’s inability to put up more of a fight in Paris. Away points will be key if Galtier’s side are to improve on last season’s league performance.

Payet excels as Olympique de Marseille cruise to first home victory of the season

After recording their first win and clean sheet of the season last week against Guingamp, Marcelo Bielsa’s Olympique de Marseille broke another duck last night by winning their first home game of the season at the newly renovated Stade Vélodrome. In what was a comfortable and confident performance, les Marseillais eased to a four-nil victory thanks to a double from the man of the match Dimitri Payet, with the other coming goals from Florian Thauvin and Abdelaziz Barrada. Nice once again suffered from their lack of strength in the middle of the park as a result of injuries to their experienced central midfielders Didier Digard and Mathieu Bodmer. The four-nil Derby de la Mediterranée win is largest margin by which OM have won a match since the beginning of Marcelo Bielsa’s reign.

OM started the match in what has become their now conventional 3-3-3-1 formation, with a starting line-up that remained unchanged from the side that started against Guingamp in the previous week. Despite midweek transfer rumours linking him with a move to the Premiership, André Ayew kept his place on the left of midfield in the three behind the in-form lone centre-forward Gignac. Once again the Marseillais pressing was relentless and just 17 minutes into the match their possession dominance was as high as 61 percent to Nice’s 39. The constant pressure finally paid dividends on nineteen minutes when the home side broke the deadlock thanks to a tidy finish from Payet. Left-back Benjamin Mendy’s dangerous cross proved to be to difficult for the Niçois defence to clear, with the ball eventually finding Payet who side-footed the ball past Hassan.

Dimitri Payet then went on to make even more of an impact in the game, first of all by setting up Florian Thauvin with a cross to score from close range to net the home side’s second and then by scoring a second goal of his own with a well-timed diving header. Speaking after the match, Payet, who had an extremely disappointing first season at OM last year during the turbulent managerial reigns of Élie Baup and then José Anigo, explained that confidence has been the key to his side’s recent success. “Week after week we’re gathering more confidence.  At Guingamp, it was really the first time we played the way we wanted to play”. The twenty-seven year old added that “tonight we were better in every way, we were as good in attack as we were in defence”.

In many ways, Dimitri Payet looks like a new player. The twenty-seven year old’s ability and potential has never been in a doubt, but his inconsistency and at times underwhelming performances last season left much to be desired. However, with an assist last week against Guingamp in addition to his two goals and another assist this weekend, he is currently excelling within the Bielsa formation, by virtue of the fact that it’s a systematic set-up which relies heavily on a team performance as opposed to individual performances. The former Nantes, Saint-Étienne and LOSC creative midfielder was heavily linked with a move to Swansea City in pre-season, but if his current form remains he is likely to be a key player for OM this season. Not out of the question either is the possibility of the 27-year-old returning to French international side, as Didier Deschamps is a known admirer of Payet, once describing him as a player who is capable of doing ‘captivating things’ with the ball.

OM’s fourth goal of the night came on eighty-seven minutes when their new signing Abdelaziz Barrada came off the bench to score after Romain Alessandrini, another second-half substitute, picked him out well. Barrada’s goal capped off what was an extremely enjoyable night for the Marseillais faithful, one which will give them a lot of confidence as things do seem to be coming together nicely for Bielsa’s side. The OM support will also be encouraged by the fact that the cub have also been able to retain the services of André Ayew, as well as making a notable addition to the squad in signing highly thought of nineteen-year old Brazilian centre-back Doria from Botafogo.

Falcao watches on as Monaco and LOSC share spoils

Football clubs the world over are always looking for inventive ways to attract fans to either renew or purchase season tickets ahead of the new Football season, and this year Monaco was no exception. In what has since become a poignant indication of how much things have changed at the club so quickly, the Monégasque outfit attempted to attract fans with a poster campaign featuring three high-profile players standing beside the words ‘Nous sommes ambitieux. Nous sommes Monaco’ – We are ambitious. We are Monaco.

However only one of these players, Portugal’s João Moutinho, is still currently a Monaco player, with the others being the now Real Madrid player James Rodriguez and his Colombian international teammate Radamel Falcao, who has also since left the Principality to play for Manchester United.

The off-field crisis at the Stade Louis-II has caused a large section of Monaco’s support to demand that they should be reimbursed for their season ticket fees, as a result of the disappointment they feel. On-field  matters by Saturday had done little to temper this increasingly delicate situation, with new coach Leonardo Jardim’s side only winning once in their previous three Ligue 1 matches, thanks to a Falcao goal against Nantes at the Stade de la Beaujoire.

Saturday’s uninspiring one-all draw against LOSC at home will have done little to improve the morale amongst the Monégasque support. Nolan Roux opened the scoring on eighteen minutes for LOSC with a half-volley after Monaco were completely opened up by a Lillois counter-attack. In what was an overwhelmingly uneventful match, Dimitar Berbatov pulled one back to share the points between the two sides on 61 minutes.

Falcao’s departure is more symbolic than it is damaging in footballing terms for Jardim’s side. Berbatov, who was initially signed as a short-term replacement option for the Colombian, has as good a goalscoring record in Ligue 1 as Falcao, with both players averaging a goal every two games. However, what is deeply concerning about Monaco’s recent form is their defensive fragility, which at the moment has resulted in only four sides in the league conceding more goals than them.

It’s too late now for Jardim to bring in players to rectify this situation, but if their form is to improve, the will have to find a solution to their defensive flaws. As far as LOSC are concerned, Nolan Roux is making a difference in les Lillois’ attacking ranks and his hard work and effort is sure to result in more goals as the season continues.

Lorient ease to win in the first Breton derby of the season

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 23.36.26A persevering Lorient side put the woes of losing last season’s stars Jérémie Aliadière and Vincent Aboubakar behind them to win the first Breton derby of the season against Jocelyn Gourvennec’s Guingamp side. Les Merlus coasted to a  four-nil victory over their regional rivals at the Stade du Moustoir, earning them a valuable three points and the first bragging rights of the season out of Ligue 1’s four Breton clubs.

Guingamp were blown away by an impressive Lorientais second-half performance, which saw new signings Jordan Ayew and Benjamin Jeannot scoring a goal each, as well as their exciting youth product Valentin Lavigne score twice to bring his so far impressive tally for the season to three goals in just four games.

There was much on show to impress the Lorientais to support, as Sylavain Ripoll side excited as the crowd at ‘le Moustoir’ when they pushed forward. Lavigne shone throughout the match, with his determination earning him two goals and his drive leading to him pushing through the Guingampais midfield to set Jordan Ayew up to score his first goal for his new side. Guingamp, who were last season’s Coupe de France winnners, have much to look forward to this season.

Les Guingampais were drawn in an exciting Europa League group alongside Fiorentina and PAOK this week, but their domestic form this season so far has left much to be desired for their support. Gourvennec’s side have now lost three out of their first four matches of the season and their support will be hoping for a marked turn in their form before they travel to Florence for their first Europa League game of the season.

Nantes promising start to the season continues

Nantes were dealt a heavy blow last season when their prolific Serbian striker Filip Djordjevic, who had been with the club throughout their uncharacteristically prolonged spell in the France’s second-tier, agreed to sign a pre-contract with Italian giants Lazio at the end of last season. The Serbian had been an invaluable asset for Michel der Zakarian’s side, scoring sixty-seven times for them in six seasons.

However, driven by their passionate supporters, FCN started this season off in the right foot, with les Nantais losing just one match in their opening three games of the season. FCN, or ‘les Canaris’ (the canaries) as they are affectionately known by their supporters, won their second home game of the season on Saturday evening in a one-nil win at the Stade de la Beaujoire against Montpellier.

The atmosphere at ‘la Beaujoire’ , without a doubt one of Ligue 1’s best stadiums in terms of atmosphere, was as electric as ever and substitute Serge Gakpé’s goal on eighty-minutes, which was enough to seal the three points, caused the sound barrier to be broken by the Breton club’s support. It was in truth a very even match, but Nantes did make Montpellier’s goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren work more, with the 28-year-old making a couple of decent blocks. In the backdrop of their holding midfielder Benjamin Stambouli’s move to Tottenham Hotspur, the result came as an increased blow for Montpellier and their disappointment was evident in the words of their coach after the match.

Speaking to RMC after the game, Roland Courbis, who takes part in the weeknight ‘Coach Courbis’ phone-in radio show for the same station, explained that the result was particularly hard to take – “It’s a disappointing result like any other, but this one is a bit harder to take. A good team beat us, but they were within our reach. “

The Author

Brendán MacFarlane

I'm a massive French football enthusiast, having fallen in love with all aspects and levels of the sport in France whilst working for a year in the town of Niort. As a French studies student, I'm constantly following what's going on in the French football media and bringing stories to the English-speaking world.

5 thoughts on “Five things we learned this week in Ligue 1

  1. Hey Brendan. Good look at the weekend. Only thing I wanted to discuss was Marseille’s formation on Friday. It was definitely billed as 3-3-3-1, but from watching it, there was a definite difference this week. It looked more like 4-2-3-1 – Romao was definitely playing ahead of N’Koulou when OM didn’t have the ball, with Morel next to the Cameroonian.
    Imbula was then ahead of Romao. It was strange to watch at times, but it definitely looked different from the game against Montpellier when Romao played to the right of N’Koulou.
    Definitely something worth looking at going forward. Interesting to see how Doria fits in and if Lemina comes in now he’s fit.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Hi Andrew, thanks for the comment.
    When I first saw OM pre-season, I thought they were intially playing a 4-1-4-1!
    What has struck me this season so far though is the versatility of the 3-3-3-1 – it’s definitely the root of Bielsa’s game, but as you rightly said there’s the potential for them to move into different shapes during the game depending on opposition, hence the changes from Montpellier and Nice games.
    I think the most important thing is the fact that the 3-1 upfront, with Gignac on his own, definitely stays the same until late in the game. N’Koulou, Imbula and Romao at times look interchangable, but I’ve been really impressed by Romao so far this season in comparison to last year. I’m also hoping Doria can slot in straight away for Morel.

    I was really disappointed last night hearing Amalfitano’s comment about the lack of communication at the club between Bielsa and Labrune – are things ever simple at OM?!

  3. Definitely. N’Koulou, Doria then Romao/Lemina is a great base to any team by the sounds of what Doria can bring.

    The whole Amalfitano thing smacks of a disgruntled former employee. Do Bielsa and Labrune really need to get on. I don’t think so. If Bielsa gets results and works to Labrune’s budget

  4. I’m sure the OM fans won’t be too bothered as long as they keep playing like they did on Friday. Can’t wait for the first PSG derby of the season!

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